Building a website: Should you be asking what it costs or what it’s worth?

One of the most common questions I’m asked when I meet potential new clients or even when I just happen to mention what I do is: How much does it cost to build a website? This is normally followed by a statement such as “I don’t need a big site such a few pages” or “I’ve been quoted £3000 for a website, it seems a lot”.

Should you be asking about cost before value
Costing up a website can be bewildering so ask for skilled help

The fact that this is such a difficult question to answer but such a simple one to ask is no doubt the cause of many a headache of web development agencies all over the country. The fundamental challenge with the question lies not just with the ‘How Long is a piece of string’ nature of the question, but around the perception that creating a web page is easy because there are so many tools out there which provide templated solutions..  (I’ve blogged on the pros and cons of this before)… and to some extent, yes, it is easier than ever to build a website but this doesn’t mean it will add value to your organisation.

The harder question is how much is a good website worth to your organisation. A well designed website won’t just drive traffic but it will turn visitors into customers and generate sales and/or revenue for your organisation. A poorly designed website may have the opposite effect. The skill is not always in the building a site but in the thinking behind it and the bringing together of many talents to grow your business online.

Bob the Builder
Whether it’s Bob the Builder or your local plumber you expect to pay for qualified skilled tradesmen, building a website is no different

If you were to ask a plumber to fix a leaky pipe or sort out your boiler you would be paying a skilled tradesman for their time at a cost which could range from £30 per hour to £60 or more per hour depending on the job being done. e.g. a job requiring a CORGI qualified plumber is likely to cost more. It is very similar in the world of building a website.

To illustrate the costs of building a site a bit better let me give some ball park figures for the staff costs for a small site with no added gadgets or e-commerce functionality:

– a web designer can cost between £200-400 per day depending on experience (and location!), this equates roughly to a rate between £25 and £50 per hour. It can take anywhere between 1 day and a week to come up with and agree concepts for a small sized site (depending on the subject matter & complexity). Averaging this out a cost could be £800 – £1000

– This then needs to be built and depending on whether you want a site you can update yourself, and the level of analytics etc you want behind it, this could be between 1-3 days or more, but let’s say it’s just a simple site and £500

– You then need text, images and the site to be tested before you can even think about going live. Say another £100-£200.

Without even thinking about the cost of pulling the above work together, or non staff overheads you’ve spent approx £1500… and this doesn’t even look at the cost of items which would really add value to your site such as

  • user journey mapping.
  • a strategy to help you maximise value from your website.
  • content written by a professional copywriter.
  • cost of graphics tailored for your website.
  • functionality to encourage users to return or transact on your site such as blogs, e-commerce functionality, or discussion boards.
  • mobile compatibility
  • ongoing measurement & analysis of visitors using the site, and recommendations as to how to get more value.

All of these things take more time than that listed above, and all of a sudden spending £3000 on a well designed, functional website which you can keep up to date yourself and which will encourage people to do business with you seems like it might be cheap!

When businesses are struggling with recession, and start up organisations are struggling to find money to get off the ground I can understand that spending any money on building a website can be difficult. However, I would argue that it doesn’t matter how much or little you spend on your website if you don’t get value out of the end result; the first step is to ask what a website can do for you and then approach an expert to find out how to make sure that is what happens.

To get advice on how your website could be adding more value contact Saja Ltd

Grabbing your Pinterest at Social Media Week Stirling

This week has been Social Media Week, events were running from San Francisco to Glasgow bringing people together in the physical world to share their knowledge of being Social in the online world; and here is Stirlingshire events were being run too, thanks to a collaberation between Stirling University and STEP.

I made it to a few of the events starting with a look at Social Media Monitoring with Figure 11 Comms and my week’s events culminated on Friday with a really interesting talk on linking CRM (a set of processes and tools to manage your contacts & customers) to Social Media from Wildcat Solutions, and as an added bonus Catriona Cripps who was giving the talk tied it into MacMillan Cancer Coffee morning by bringing along tasty cakes. I took away several ideas and pieces of software I am keen to research further from this and I may write another blog on my findings further down the line.

However the highlight of the week for me was the talk which Creation Social Media ran on PInterest on Friday morning. They really opened up my eyes to the power of PInterest as a marketing tool for all types of company and not just those who are more graphically inclined. The statistics around the reach of PInterest were staggering for a site which has been around for a relatively short time even in Social Media terms; and the talk opened up some really interesting discussion on the type of use the site could have in the future. It will be a very interesting topic to follow over the next year I’m sure.

It was an engaging talk which has gone so far as to inspire me to set up a PInterest page for Saja Ltd. I shall be interested to monitor the use of PInterest as new developments and digital marketing strategies start to consider and incorporate the power of the pin.

Let me know your thoughts – Do you think you’re making the most of PInterest yet or do you think this is a pin which will lose its sharpness once the novelty wears off? As anew convert I’d love to know your views.

Is the increase in ‘DIY’ templated sites a downward spiral for user experience?

I had a call from a client last night who had encountered an issue with their website. Like many small business, or clubs & organisations, they set up and look after their own WordPress site; the sites don’t need a lot of technical knowledge to run and come with good user instructions for setting them up. In many cases this approach can be a great way for start ups to get themselves online simply and effectively, the CMS style interface is normally fit for purpose and to begin with they do not need anything more sophisticated, but periodically they encounter an issue which requires a little bit more technical support and this is often when I get a call.

For small businesses who don’t have in house IT or digital support, using a dedicated agency or support company to run their website can be expensive and isn’t always practical or cost effective. A fully supported digital solution may be something that they may aspire to in the future but often I speak to people who are just looking for help setting something up that they can run themselves. Supporting businesses who are looking for advice on how to set up their website, and providing support packages for small websites who are looking for sporadic pieces of technical advice to resolve issues such as those my client experienced yesterday is something I get a lot of satisfaction in providing. In these instances I know that I am making life easier for those that I’m working with, saving time and money for them, and often I can add value to the user experience of their digital presence at the same time or can work with the organisation towards their more long term strategic goals for digital users.

However a recent flux of adverts on the TV for the ‘build your own website’ solutions that come with hosting providers, has left me wondering whether or not a surge in small business websites being set up by non digital experts may have a detrimental effect on the over all user experiences online. I have been lucky enough to work with many digital experts in my career to date, some are experts at writing for the web, some at user experience and/or design, some at coding, some at digital marketing, but rarely do you find someone who is an expert at them all. I have always maintained that my skill is in a general understanding of these fields but also, most importantly, the ability and knowledge of the need to bring together the experts as required and help to co-ordinate their work. So, if lots of websites are being created using generic tools by people who are not considering the overall digital experience of their user, then will the experience be degraded in the future? Or is it possible that this area will become self policing and there will be a greater understanding everywhere of the importance of communicating effectively online?

As someone who still periodically encounters garish sites set up in old style HTML with unfriendly colours, bad spelling & grammar, and poor image choices, I can only support tools that help novice website builders create sites that are easier to use and more pleasing to the eye. This has to be good for small business and organisations who cannot always afford to pay for a site to be developed from scratch. However in my experience getting guidance from an expert with areas such as labelling, site structure and cross linking will more than pay for itself in terms of customer retention and value in the long term.

What do you think: are you encountering poor web design on a more frequent basis or do you think the increase in the number of templated sites is improving the overall user experience online?


Are your users always right?

I have a fairly fundamental belief that your users and your customers needs should be at the heart of any website. If the people that the website has been built for don’t like the website and don’t find it easy to use then they won’t come back and use it again. Websites should support their customers in achieving their goals. This is a principle which was at the heart of the project I ran for Age UK but which has been key in the websites I have worked on across my career.

I am a huge advocate of User Testing and have really enjoyed working with some great usability companies who have time and again upheld my belief in the importance of this step in web design projects. You would think then that I would also believe that when it comes to feedback on design changes that users are always right, but this is not necessarily the case. The challenge is that people don’t like change, even if the change is for the better. This may sound a little contradictory to my statements above but I have time and again seen it when you carry out user testing with regular users of a site versus new users of a site:

  • When new users to a site are shown an old version of the site and a new version which has been designed with the user journey in mind, if the site has been designed well then the new site will usually be preferred. They have no preconceptions or user journey to unlearn.
  • When existing users to a site are shown an old version of the site and a new version of the site their previous experience will impact their decision. They may be expecting content to be in a certain place having ‘learnt’ that it is there, and they have to ‘relearn’ the new version. This can initially make a site seem less friendly.

Users don’t always know what it is that they don’t like about the new site and are not always as clear about why they are finding it difficult. This in itself suggests that the problem is not with the new site but in that they were used to something else. The phrase that sticks out in their feedback is often “it’s different” or “why has it changed?”.

We hate the Timeline Facebook Share image
We hate the Timeline – an image currently being shared on Facebook in objection to the recent changes to the user interface

For long established sites this creates a real challenge in progressing change without frustrating the existing users, and I believe the key here is communication. The most visible case of this at the moment is on Facebook where there seems to be a large number of users sharing the “We hate the Timeline” image from Occupy Wall St’s profile. I have asked friends who have shared this image why they don’t like the Timeline and they find it very difficult to tell you why. I am actually fairly neutral in this debate, and can see real value for organisations in the Timeline interface, however I shouldn’t be surprised to see it’s created such a huge backlash in the general user base. It is a big change and I believe it wasn’t well communicated what was happening, when it was happening or why. This has left the majority of the Facebook users confused & upset.

So are these users right or are they wrong? Well without wanting to sound like I’m sitting on the fence I don’t think they are right or wrong, I believe the key is in understanding: understanding the challenges in learning a new site for both new and existing users, and helping all users to understand any changes being made.

As digital experts managing web projects, and as designers, we need to work with experts and work with users to try and balance this difference of opinion, introduce change in a controlled way, and ensure that resistance to change doesn’t stifle innovation and long term improvements.

What do you think? Have you encountered resistance to change within your organisation or your user base and how have you overcome it? 

Achieving your goals by breaking them down: it works across the field.. and on the track!

The other day I blogged about how I’d been impressed by the teamwork by the British team Sky in the Tour de France, and how it could be applied to business situations. This morning I watched a fantastic interview on BBC Breakfast with Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s Performance Director, where he was discussing the methods he’d used to help the British Olympic cycling team to their current success in London 2012.

The interview was focussing on recent reports and queries in the International press as to how the British team has managed to be so successful across the board with cycling, questioning if they are using special kit. Dave’s response could have been the response of Project Managers and Coaches in any field:

“We start by analysing the demands of the event we want to win. We then prioritise because we know we can’t win everything. Then we look at where we are today and see the gap between where we are and where we want to be and how we can get there… “

This could equally read as follows:

  • Identify the goal
  • Identify the requirements to meet that goal
  • Prioritise the requirements
  • List the tasks required to meet those requirements

Once you have this information you can plan and adjust your plans as required to keep you on track for meeting that goal, and most importantly keep your team motivated and keep monitoring performance to ensure you are on track. It’s a mantra I repeat almost daily in my work and an approach which has been used time and again to ensure success.

Dave Brailsford also made a great point about focussing on the little details to get what he referred to as ‘marginal gains’

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of an improved it by 1% and put it back together again you will get a significant increase.” …

“There’s fitness and conditioning but there are other things that might seem on the periphery like sleeping in the right position, having the same pillow when you are going away and training in different places, hygiene.” …

“They’re tiny things but if you clump them all together it makes a big difference.”

In the digital and technology world I have worked on projects where performance was critical to the success of the application. By ensuring each bit of code, each piece of the application is as efficient as it can be this helps to ensure that as a whole it works better. I’ve also worked on projects where time and a delivery date was a critical factor, by finding ways to deliver each individual element in the most efficient way, if you have 6 or 7 elements to a project and you manage to deliver each of them 1 hour quicker than expected then you have saved a day.

Dave Brailsford referred to himself as a conductor and the team of coaches and athletes as musicians :

“With the Olympics (as well), it’s been a big challenge but I’m an orchestra conductor, we’ve got fantastic cellists, violinists and drummers and we’ve got fantastic coaches.”

I love this analogy and again it works beautifully in terms of running projects: the Project Manager is the conductor and the team working on the project are all playing their part to make the music come together.

The reason that Team GB cyclists are doing well in the Olympics? In my opinion: The Olympics were their goal and they have been working as a team to deliver this goal rather than anything else. In fact most of the funding in the UK has been specifically Olympics driven. This is why some of the athletes didn’t necessarily perform that well over some of the events earlier in the year, those events were milestones on the way to a larger more important goal and it’s quite possible they didn’t want to peak too early.

One thing does strike me though, and it was a question which Dave Brailford himself wasn’t able to give a clear answer to this morning: How did they manage to be so successful in the Tour De France and the Olympics back to back in the same year? From what Dave said this morning winning the Tour this year wasn’t necessarily their primary goal, they had been targeting a win within 5 years, however it seems it is a rather nice piece of icing on the cake.. or in my terms a rather nice case of a project delivered early!